As I work on the fall gar­den cleanup, I’m think­ing back to the sea­son in the Bum­ble­bee Garden.

In March, the weather was still frigid and the trees were still bare. But before spring kicks is actu­ally an excel­lent time to take stock of the gar­den because the “bones”–the major struc­tural outlines–of the gar­den are clearly visible.

Three years ago I had the white picket fence and arbor installed. Last year Wal­ter, my handy­man, installed the raised beds for me, haul­ing tons and tons of top­soil and leaf mulch in a wheel bar­rel. Although it was a very expen­sive project I believe it paid off by pro­vid­ing a for­mal­ized frame­work in which to work. Even though I’m not a gar­den­ing genius, things still man­age to look rea­son­ably tidy and pro­fes­sional even when I was not par­tic­u­larly tidy and pro­fes­sional about main­tain­ing the garden.

garden-in-waiting.jpg

March 2007

In pre­vi­ous years, I largely con­cen­trated on grow­ing herbs and veg­eta­bles because I love the fresh food and the kick I get out of grow­ing some­thing I can actu­ally eat. Even when I was in my early 20s I found it grat­i­fy­ing to have some toma­toes and pole beans that I could pick for dinner–not to men­tion that since I worked at a non-profit, I needed the cheap food.

But with a small fam­ily of three humans, we really don’t need all that much in the way of exten­sive plant­ing to feed every­one pretty darn well. I usu­ally don’t have a lot of time to devote to pre­serv­ing and freez­ing, so I ended up giv­ing most of the excess pro­duce away to any­one who would take it–friends, the FedEx guy, the copy store lady, the wine shop guy. Any­one! I was my very own Meals on Wheels with the back of my SUV loaded with cucum­bers, zuc­chini, Swiss chard and other veggies.

So last year I decided to cut back on the veg­eta­bles and add more color to the gar­den with peren­ni­als and annu­als. The beds in the perime­ter of the gar­den have a few veg­gies, but are mostly peren­ni­als, includ­ing peonies, lamb’s ear, ice plant, bee balm, laven­der, irises and more. While the bor­ders can be quite pretty, they aren’t par­tic­u­larly orga­nized or cohesive–a result of my undis­ci­plined prac­tice of haul­ing home pretty much any­thing that strikes my fancy. (This winter’s plans include, well, com­ing up with an actual plan.)

may 1 garden.jpg

May 2007

Not much that you can see was hap­pen­ing in May, although the gar­den had been cleaned up and planted with seedlings that I started in my indoor light garden–a three-tiered rolling stand that dom­i­nates my office. Going clock­wise start­ing from the upper left are 1) pep­pers and cucum­bers 2) toma­toes, pars­ley, marigolds 3) baby doll roses and a Hen­ryi clema­tis 4) box­woods sur­round­ing the most hideous col­ored rose top­i­ary ever sold to the gen­eral pub­lic 5) basil, bush beans, Swiss chard, spinach 6) rose­mary, basil, oregano, gar­lic chives, chives, tar­ragon, hol­ly­hocks, laven­der, pars­ley and more herbs.

May is also the only month that I like the two climb­ing roses you can see dom­i­nat­ing the fence. They bloom these tiny yel­low roses and are mag­nif­i­cent, although with­out fra­grance, for about three weeks. The rest of the year the roses are an absolute nui­sance that must be hacked back to pre­vent it from dom­i­nat­ing every­thing around it.

garden june 3 2007.jpg

June 2007

By June, things were start­ing to look pretty good, despite the drought that was already in full swing, as you can tell by the unsightly brown spots over the sep­tic tank. Already I was spend­ing nearly all my gar­den time com­muning with the water hose. One of the dis­ad­van­tages of a gar­den with this type of lay­out is that you can’t just set up a sprin­kler and walk away. It requires hand water­ing unless you’re okay with wast­ing water and encour­ag­ing weeds to grow in your mulch paths.

You can see that the wis­te­ria and clema­tis are start­ing to race their way to the top of the arbor over the gate from oppo­site sides. We had plenty of spinach, black seeded simp­son and red sails let­tuce to make every­one happy. The toma­toes were start­ing to grow, although the Texas tomato cages really aren’t needed at this point.

The lurid rose top­i­ary was downed in a wind­storm. Awwwwwh shucks. It might not make it.

garden-07.01.07.gif

July 2007

What a dif­fer­ence a month makes. The let­tuce had bolted and the toma­toes had raced to the top of the 6′ tall Texas tomato cages. The daylilies just out­side the fence were bloom­ing beau­ti­fully. Lucia, a fam­ily friend, finally dug up the lurid rose top­i­ary and carted it home with her. (I believe she might be color blind.) Now that the ugly rose was gone, I could actu­ally sit for a few min­utes on the bench with­out being offended–when I wasn’t hand water­ing, that is. The drought was in full force.

See the wis­te­ria and clema­tis doing bat­tle high on the arbor?

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August 2007

By August we had moved a con­tainer planted tree in to replace the lurid rose top­i­ary. I hacked back the ram­pant roses so things were still look­ing fairly tidy. There still wasn’t as much color as I wanted. We had some beau­ti­ful cock’s comb, climb­ing black-eyed susans that you can see creep­ing out of the fence at the bot­tom. The marigolds around the toma­toes were stun­ning though. My baby doll roses have not done par­tic­u­larly well and I am think­ing of replac­ing them with some­thing less finicky.

You can also see here that the cucum­bers grow­ing on the bam­boo teepees aren’t cucum­bers at all. They’re morn­ing glo­ries. We lost all our cucum­bers before I real­ized what the heck was going on.

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Sep­tem­ber 2007

Sep­tem­ber was still very dry. All sum­mer long we had less than 2 inches of rain and most of that was in a sin­gle week in August.

The clema­tis over the arbor was glo­ri­ous. It really did seem to win out over the wis­te­ria. The wis­te­ria still needs to come down before things get ugly for that poor clematis.

Amaz­ingly, we har­vested toma­toes through­out the month of Sep­tem­ber and into November.

Garden%20November%202007.jpg

Novem­ber 2007

As you can see, it’s Novem­ber and those dang rose bushes con­tinue to vie for world dom­i­na­tion. Harry mowed the one on the right down about three years ago. Yes, he ran over it and cut it ALL THE WAY TO THE GROUND. Now look at it. They wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t invade every­one else’s space, gen­er­ally look shaggy and har­bor unbe­liev­ably hardy co-parasitic weeds beneath its branches. I’m think­ing that only Agent Orange could deal with these rose bushes and their weedy friends.

We have seen the last of the toma­toes, although we con­tinue to get pep­pers. The baby doll roses are bloom­ing and look bet­ter in Novem­ber than they have all year.

Every­thing else is wind­ing down and it’s time to haul myself back out­side to clean up the veg­etable beds, hack down the wis­te­ria and bring in what remains of the herbs for drying.

All-in-all, I can’t say it was a par­tic­u­larly stun­ning gar­den year. I trav­eled for work most of July and August, which meant that the gar­den was neglected at peak times. The drought also took a sig­nif­i­cant toll both because the gar­den didn’t get the best water–rain water–and because what time I did have was spent hand watering.

Nev­er­the­less, we ate very well and I learned more of nature’s lessons. As I retreat back indoors for the win­ter I’ll be hatch­ing plans for an even more col­or­ful gar­den next year.

Ciao!

Robin
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Filed in: Gardening

Garden and food writer Robin Ripley is co-author of Grocery Gardening. Her new book, Wisdom for Home Preservers, will be released later in 2014 from Taunton Press.

Bumblebee is about her life in rural Maryland, her garden, cooking, dogs and pet chickens. She also blogs about food and chickens at Eggs & Chickens. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. Thank you for visiting.

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